Season 25 2-time champion: $43,800 + $1,000.
Last name pronounced like "MYOOTH".
Jeopardy! Message Board user name: plethora
Brian Muth - a headmaster
November 25, 2008
My family has long urged me to try out for Jeopardy! As a young child, I often read the set of encyclopedias we had in our family room, primarily because I could use the knowledge to annoy my older sisters. When I was a teenager, I loved to sit and watch Jeopardy! with my mom, dad and grandma. I really annoyed my mom by answering as soon as I finished reading the question. This perturbed her in particular because I read very quickly and we’re a very competitive family. From this annoyance probably stems her long-time urging of me to try out for Jeopardy!
I first auditioned back in 1988 or 1989. My sister lived in Orange County, CA at the time, so I flew down and she took me to the studio for the test. I was a college junior and little did I know that she and my mom signed me up to try out for the regular show. What a miserably hard test it was! I recall one question in particular: “Name the dog of the brother-in-law of the Secretary of the Agriculture under JFK.” Well, okay, maybe the questions weren’t that obscure, but they sure seemed like it. Over the years, many of my friends and family kept urging me try out again, but I just didn’t have the time, or we lived too far away from LA, etc.
I next tried out in 2003 or 2004 in San Francisco. I did well enough on the test to be asked to stay for the mock game and interview, which qualified me to be on the show over the next 12 months. Needless to say, while I was disappointed not to be called, it was the season that Ken Jennings had his little streak, so my disappointment was tempered by the realization that I did not have to face the possibility of being another one of Ken’s victims.
I took the online test in 2006, felt like I did pretty well, but was never contacted. I was disheartened and really ready to stop trying. My wife convinced me to try one more time, for the December 2007 online test. She happened to be gone that evening. I got home around 7:15 after a long, frustrating day. The kids (we have eight) were on the rambunctious side, and I didn’t have time to get them down for the night before the test. I asked my oldest two daughters to corral them in a room on the opposite side of the house from where the computer is and to try to keep them quiet, and then I logged on for the test with a couple of minutes to spare.
That was probably the single hardest test I have ever taken, including over four years of undergrad, three years of business school, the LSAT and the GMAT. Man! I said to myself, “Well, there goes my last chance!” If I didn’t get called the last time, when I felt pretty good about the test, there would no chance I’d get called this time.
Much to my surprise, I was invited down for a follow-up test and interview in March. I was completely shocked, after how badly I felt I had done on the test. I was in the middle of a merger of our school with another private school, working 60 hours a week, and generally going crazy, but there was no way I was going to miss this final opportunity. The follow-up test was much easier and restored a little of my wounded dignity. As for the in person audition, I never feel like I interview well—I’m always jealous of people who are so at ease with other people. Everybody else seemed to have much more exciting stories to tell, too. Anyway, they told us that we were eligible to be on the show over the next 18 months. I was of course honored to be considered, but figured that if it happened, it happened, but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up.
Well, we proceeded with our school merger. Following a hectic spring and summer of preparations, during which I neither thought about nor watched any Jeopardy!, we opened the doors on August 20. As with any business merger, there were a host of challenges. Add in nervous parents, uncertain students, and a new headmaster (yours truly), and the fun goes on to this day. So, about two weeks into this maelstrom I received a phone call from Robert with Jeopardy asking if I could come down in about three weeks for taping. I suppose now I should have asked if I could come later, like maybe November or next March, but I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Fantastic! You bet I’ll be there!”
The first person I told was my wife, who thought I was joking at first. Then I told my mother, who wanted to shout it from the rooftops. My life was continuing on as busy as ever. I was only able to watch a couple of shows before going down to LA. I printed out lists of presidential facts, state facts, Oscar winners, etc., but found almost no free time when I was lucid to study. On the plane trip down and in the hotel the night before the first day of taping, I did find time to review a little. One tidbit of presidential trivia did help me on a Final Jeopardy!, I must say.
Arriving at the stage caused my heart to skip a beat—what a thrill! Most of the other contestants and I had ridden over from the hotel on the same bus. They were obviously a nice bunch of people, but I started to get nervous hearing about their preparations, their knowledge about the show, the frequency with which they watched the show, etc. The Jeopardy! staff was fantastic, from the friendly greetings, the effort they made to know your name in advance, and their untiring labors to make you at ease. I imagine vomiting, glassy-eyed contestants make for bad TV, but they seem to truly care about your comfort, relaxation and possible success at the show.
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous during the rehearsal game. The signaling button didn’t bother me per se, but my speed (or lack thereof) with it did. The key is the timing, which is not my strength. You get two chances to rehearse, to try to make you at ease with the show and how everything works. Again, the staff (Maggie, Robert, Tony and Glenn) was wonderful. I think I had them worried, because I probably had the whole “deer in the headlights” look.
I was not called for the first game, against a four-time defending champion, Carl. I was fairly thankful for that, as the gentleman who beat him, Randy, was a buzz saw—he just destroyed the competition through his first three games. Randy’s performance wasn’t exactly enhancing my confidence, but I did become more comfortable over time from observing three games’ worth of clues. From a knowledge standpoint, I became more comfortable that I could compete.
Coming out on stage for the first time was both exhilarating and terrifying for me. I work for a school—it was critical that I not embarrass myself! I just imagined hearing, “And finishing with negative $20,000 and unable to participate in Final Jeopardy! is…” Once again, the staff was wonderful about putting the other contestants and me at ease, keeping it light, making sure you remembered the basics, etc. That and the constant silent praying helped tremendously.
I had wanted to meet Alex Trebek for a long time. He just seems like such an interesting guy. Alex is another reason my mom and sister Jeri wanted me to go on the show—I think they’ve both always wanted to meet him. I know Jeri did, but I think her interest waned after he shaved off the mustache. Alex is very personable and witty and it was a pleasure to meet him.
So, my first game was the fourth show taped that day, Wednesday, September 24. Randy had racked up over $100,000 in three shows—absolutely incredible! Well, I figured that I would finally have the privilege of appearing on a show I greatly enjoy, facing great competition, meeting Alex Trebek, and hopefully covering my travel costs. Randy is a genuinely nice, obviously incredibly intelligent guy, so there would be no shame if I didn’t beat him.
The game started fine for me, but I really didn’t have any categories that were custom-made for me, if you know what I mean—one of those you run right through, get the Double Jeopardy!, and the crowd goes wild! Instead, I picked, I scratched, and I clawed to a respectable score through the Jeopardy! Round. That did wonders for my confidence! Double Jeopardy! was less kind, as Randy went on a run. I finally got a Daily Double, but in a category I wasn’t crazy about (Civil War). So, I bet fairly conservatively ($2,000, I believe). While I missed, I did remember the staff’s advice and gave an answer (Vicksburg, but the answer was Shiloh). That and Randy’s superior play put me several thousand behind going into Final Jeopardy!
The category was World Currencies, which I felt reasonably confident about. It was one of those tricky wagering situations. Randy had a sizeable enough lead over me that I had to think hard about how I bet. I could have bet it all, but that would have risked dropping me into 3rd place if I missed. Obviously I couldn’t plan on beating him if he got it right—I wasn’t about to assume, given how well he’d played over four games, that he would get it right, but bet less than intelligently. I knew what I’d do in his situation—bet just enough to beat me if I doubled up. So, I did the math and bet enough to beat him if he wagered that way, but missed the answer. As it turned out, this worked perfectly, as I ended up being the only contestant to get the correct answer (Zimbabwe). I was good and truly stunned.
When you’re in the middle of a day in which five shows are being taped, you don’t get much time to think about what happened. After the closing taping sequence, I was whisked off to the green room to change—shirt and tie only, as it turned out, as we were tight on time. The second game was a real dogfight, with all three of us being fairly close going into Final Jeopardy! My two fellow contestants were both plenty sharp and plenty fast on the signaling devices. (As an aside, when they tell you at your audition to practice at home by clicking a pen, DO IT!) This time, however, I had a small lead going into Final Jeopardy! This time, I was in the position of figuring out how to wager and followed by previous logic—bet just enough to beat the number two contestant if he doubled up and got it right. I once again was blessed to know the answer and finished the day of taping on a two-game roll. I would have an off day on Thursday before taping resumed on Friday. It was a real trip to have people who had seen the taping greet and congratulate me on the way out—I felt just a little bit like a celebrity! He and his wife were just the nicest people. One of the other contestants (Lanny, from Maryland) and I shared a cab back to the hotel. He and his wife were just the nicest people, which seemed pretty uniform among the contestants.
So, my third show, which would air after a two-week Teen Tournament, taped on Friday, September 26. Not to make excuses, but Thursday had not been a good day. An unfortunate and difficult business matter arose that required my attention. My Dodgers suffered a heartbreaking loss in the middle of a pennant race to the last place Padres. To cap it all, my USC Trojans looked just awful in a road loss to the then 1-2 Oregon State Beavers, probably ruining their chances at a national championship. Thursday night’s sleep could have been much better! My advice—shut yourself off from the world the night before a taping. Do everything possible to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
I was just sluggish as can be in my third game. Both of the other contestants were both intelligent and quick on those signaling devices! I scrapped my way to third place finish at the end of the Jeopardy! Round. Again, there were just no slam dunk categories for me, and I think I landed on one Daily Double over all my appearances combined. Double Jeopardy! really wasn’t much better for me. The leader had an almost-insurmountable lead going into Final Jeopardy! The second place contestant could just barely catch him, and I was the slob in third place. Imagine my surprise when a wrong response of mine was overturned before we began Final Jeopardy! I thought, hey, this might give me a chance…Not to be, I was disappointed to find out, as giving me back my money also restored money to the leader, whose wrong answer after my answer would not have happened if they had ruled me correct in the first place. This had the unfortunate effect of putting the game out of reach. I can say, however, that I think I only missed one answer over three games (the Civil War Daily Double), getting all three Final Jeopardy! questions right.
When it was all over, I felt like I did as a kid after getting off a roller coaster—I wanted to do it again! Unfortunately, that is not to be. I will always look back at this experience thankful to God for the opportunity, with great fondness for the Jeopardy! staff, and just have a great story I can tell for years to come. My family and friends have been so happy for me. We are going to have a viewing party for the first show at school, with popcorn, chicken wings and, being in the Napa Valley, a little vino.